Scientists say noise pollution harms marine life and should be a priority


Far below the ocean’s surface, a cacophony of industrial noise is disrupting the ability of marine animals to mate, feed and even escape predators, scientists warn.

With booming ships, pounding oil drills and booming seismic survey explosions, humans have dramatically altered the underwater soundscape – in some cases deafening or disorienting whales, dolphins and other mammals. sailors who depend on sound to navigate, report researchers in a meta-study to be published on Friday. by the magazine Science which reviews over 500 research articles.

Even the crackle of glaciers calving in the polar oceans and the crackle of rain falling on the water’s surface can be heard deep under the sea, said lead author Carlos Duarte, marine scientist at the University of Sciences and King Abdullah technologies in Saudi Arabia.

“It is a chronic problem that certainly weakens animals, from individuals to populations,” Duarte said in an interview. “This is a growing problem, global in scope.

These noises and their impacts require more attention from scientists and policy makers, especially the effects on sea turtles and other reptiles, seabirds, seals, walruses and phytophagous mammals such as manatees. , according to the study.

A raft of California sea lions enjoys a swim. Sea lions call each other both above and underwater. (Daniel Costa)

University of Victoria marine biologist Francis Juanes, one of the study’s co-authors, said that while most of the work on the effect of noise has been done on marine mammals, the researchers consistently find pervasive negative effects in ocean animals. .

“It’s not just whales,” Juanes said, adding that invertebrates and fish are also feeling the effects of noise pollution. “We assumed the ocean is for the most part silent. But it turns out it isn’t, and the reason it isn’t is because the sound travels far below the water. . “

As such, the international team of researchers called for a global regulatory framework to measure and manage ocean noise.

Underwater recordings of natural and man-made sounds from the arctic to tropical oceans

A composition of underwater recordings from the arctic to tropical oceans of fish, mammals, crustaceans, insects, ice, water and human-made sounds. 1:00

Much of the human-made noise should be easy to reduce, said Duarte. For example, measures such as building quieter propellers and ship hulls and using drilling techniques that do not cause water bubbles and vibrations could halve noise pollution, a- he declared.

Getting the world to use more renewable energy would reduce the need to drill for oil and gas.

Duarte said the benefits to marine life could be dramatic, noting a resurgence in marine activity in April 2020 when noise from ships, usually loudest near shore, died down as countries settled down. locked out during the COVID-19 pandemic.

But humans haven’t just added noise to the ocean; they also eliminated natural sounds, according to the study.

Whaling in the 1900s, for example, removed millions of whales from the world’s oceans, along with much of their whale song. And the chirping and chattering around coral reefs are getting quieter and quieter as more corals die from the warming, acidification and pollution of the oceans.

Climate change has also altered the soundscape in parts of the ocean that warms up by altering the mix of animals that live there, as well as the noises they make.

Oceanographer Kate Stafford of the Applied Physics Laboratory at the University of Washington has welcomed the timing of the meta-study, as the United Nations calls on governments to set aside 30% of the world’s land and sea areas for conservation.

“The review makes it clear that in order to truly reduce anthrophony (human noise) and aim for a well-managed future… we will need global cooperation between governments,” Stafford said.


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